Watercress can help prevent DNA damage caused by intense bouts of exercise, researchers from the University of Ulster have discovered.

Although regular moderate exercise is healthy, the increased demand on our bodies caused by highly energetic exercise can increase harm to the genetic material through the build up of free radicals which may contribute to ageing.

According to a study from scientists at the university, eating watercress can help maximise the benefits of a tough training session.

watercress protects exercise damage

Dr Gareth Davison said: "Although we are aware of how good exercise can be for our bodies, pounding the treadmill or lifting heavy weights can take its toll."

He said the increased demand on the body for energy can create a build up of free radicals.

Dr Davison added: "What we have found is that consuming a relatively small amount of watercress each day can help raise the levels of important antioxidant vitamins which may help protect our bodies and allow us to enjoy the rewards of keeping fit."

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An eight-week study on watercress consumption was carried out, with each participant asked to take a small bag of the salad leaf and take part in high-level exercise on a treadmill. Researchers also had a control group with no watercress.

Dr Davison said: "We put participants through short bursts of intense exercise and found that those who had not eaten watercress had more DNA damage than those that consumed watercress.

"This study provides an interesting step forward in sports nutrition development and research, and the findings may be beneficial to all levels of sport performers."